While the complete pathophysiology of glaucoma remains unknown, a sports medicine research team has been able to connect physical exercise to lower rates of the sight-threatening disease, according to a recent publication.1 The study, found in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, shows epidemiological evidence that meeting certain physical activity guidelines or being fit reduces the risk of developing glaucoma.1 The guidelines, published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, calls for 60 minutes of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activity at least three days a week for children and adolescents and a minimum of 75 to 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week for adults.1,2 It also calls for adults to muscle strengthen two or more days a week.2 These guidelines are designed to produce long-term systemic health benefits, but this new research narrowed in on its impact on glaucoma.1

Of the 9,519 patients evaluated, 128 incidents of glaucoma were reported during a mean follow-up of 5.7 years. A significantly lower risk was found in those who met or even moderately followed the guidelines. Those with high fitness levels had an even lower risk of glaucoma. However, not following the guidelines was associated with a 95% hazard ratio for glaucoma.

The study recommends physical activity to ward off the disease and even speculates about its mechanism of action. “Exercise stimulates antioxidant networks,” it says. “Oxidative stress may damage retinal ganglion cells [and] damage DNA in the trabecular meshwork, thereby compromising outflow and increasing intraocular pressure. In animal models increased oxidative stress has been linked to IOP. In animal studies, antioxidant treatments have some benefit in reducing oxidative stress in the retina.”

1. Meier N, Lee D, Xuemei S, Blair S. Physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness and incident glaucoma. Med & Sci in Sports Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. July 6, 2018. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 2008. https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/summary.aspx. Accessed August 31, 2018.